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Thursday, December 22, 2011
Posted by Nick Fleder at 12:38pm (2) Comments
Friday, December 23, 2011
I believe I may have confessed previously in this column that my true favorite fantasy sport to play is NBA basketball. I’m also probably more successful at it than at fantasy baseball, either because I’m actually better or my competition is weaker. In any case, I participated in three NBA fantasy drafts over this past week— two snake drafts and one auction. I did something I’ve pretty much never done before, and while I’m not sure it’s at all advisable, it was certainly an enriching experience, as it led me to contemplate the value of getting outside the fantasy sports matrix.
Going into these drafts, I basically did no fantasy-related research. I follow the NBA pretty closely, so I was aware of player movement and my knowledge of the league and of individual players led me to feel pretty confident in understanding how these moves will impact rotations and playing time, which players fit in what style of offense, and so forth. So, while I did do plenty of “research” on the NBA just through the act of consuming league news, I didn’t consume any content dedicated to ranking players.
As draft day approached, I did review things like how specific players who spent most of the season as bench players produced when thrust into starting roles, but the fantasy-related opinions that I reached were as exclusively my own as they could conceivably be. When I entered my league’s live draft, it was the first time I saw this season’s pre-rankings. That was an interesting experience.
Because I didn’t include pre-rankings in my research, I conducted my drafts with almost no credence at all to them. I freely selected players several rounds “too early,” going strictly on my feel for what they are going to do. Early on, I tried to game the system, and got bitten. I passed on a player I wanted because his pre-rank dictated he should probably come back to me on my next pick; he was snatched from me a few picks later. That instance simply emboldened me in my embodiment of liberation, empowerment, and, some may even say, my recklessness. I acted as if I was way smarter than the system and time will tell if I’m correct. By the way, that is not to say I didn’t make my fair share of picks in line with conventional wisdom.
Humans are notorious for overestimating the amount of intellectual autonomy they have in their own decisions. We constantly claim that we know why we make the choices we make and that all kinds of marketing and environmental interventions don’t have profound impact on those choices. Both of those assertions are annihilated nearly every time they are studied. There are literally dozens of coined forms of cognitive dissonance that relate specifically to various behavioral patterns under this umbrella. This exercise was ostensibly another one of those experiments. The pre-rank board looked very strange to me without having been conditioned by reading the opinions of those thought-leaders who likely have a direct or indirect hand in shaping the board.
My point here is not that people shouldn’t read the opinions of experts—I’m not trying to put myself out of business. Rather, my point is that people should expend some extra energy to critically evaluate their own agency in their decision-making processes. It’s fine to defer your agency, or some portion thereof, to others whose opinions you respect. But, it is also okay to make bold decisions that aren’t backed by the majority.
It strikes me that the way most of us weight our own opinions, especially when they are outlying, is akin to the regression to the mean model. We take our own thoughts on a player, which may be substantially different from the industry or market sentiment and throw that in the mix along with a healthy proportion of market sentiment and wind up with a slightly different projection, our own opinion significantly diluted by a large dose of mainstream opinion. This is not necessarily a bad methodology—in fact it’s probably quite wise, but it does subvert our own insights, sometimes for the better, but sometimes for the worse.
Independence and auction/nomination strategy
Strategically, one of the difficulties of having an outlying opinion, assuming it’s correct, is how to maximize your profit from that opinion. I’m sure we’ve all been burned by this at some point. Many can relate to this situation:
I like really player A, actually even more so than player B, though I like player B too. Player B is nominated first. I bid on player B because I think I can get him at a fair price and figure that few are up on player A, so I don’t need to reserve much budget for him. I win player B, then the bidding on player A actually goes higher than expected and I’m not in the position to compete at the final price point. In the end, I bought player B for about the same price for which player A sold, ostensibly receiving no financial discount to “settle” for my second choice.
This happened in my NBA auction as I thought Serge Ibaka would be worth a ton in one of my leagues, but underestimated how high everybody else was on him, and therefore he wound up out of my budget, though he was still a steal at the price the winner paid.
I made another mistake in that draft. Ibaka was nominated much later than his pre-rank positioned him. I avoided nominating him, as my strategy in auctions is usually to nominate players I’m not all-in on in order to provoke others to spend. In this case, though, by the time this player was nominated, he was probably the best or among the best players left, by a considerable margin. Therefore, just about all the teams who had more money than I did were in.
That’s the flip side of a nominating strategy in which you nominate other players around your desired player’s skill level in the hopes of getting others to spend. If you allow an auction to reach a point where a player you are targeting is perhaps the best player still available, you run the risk of inflating his price for that reason alone.
To wrap the autonomy principle more tightly around this example, in retrospect I should have just completely trusted my opinion of the player and had faith in the fact that I would make a wise buy regardless of when he was nominated. As I said, at the end of the day, I still feel like the player in question was a bargain—a bargain I couldn’t afford.
Take the money and run?
It can be dangerous to play games either in auctions or drafts trying to maximize your profits to the very last penny. Sometimes, if you have a strong, independent opinion on a player, you might be better off letting the situation play out more traditionally and simply trusting your ability to make a modest profit.
When fantasy sports experts talk about signature moments of their drafts, it can often be the inverse of the way poker pros speak. In poker, all you hear are stories about a player’s bad beats, and rarely does he or she recount the tales in which luck shone his or her way. In fantasy sports, we like to brag about the great picks we made late in drafts or clown on our less enlightened leaguemates for letting player X fall all the way to us in round Y. However, infrequently do we hear about the countless times we play chicken with a player we like and get run off the road, the times we were right on a player but allow somebody else to reap the benefits because we thought we could squeeze out even more ROI.
This often happens when people rely on pre-ranks to dictate an objective reality. You know what really hurts? It hurts when you take a player in round six who you are lukewarm on because you think he has higher perceived value, and bet that the guy you love will be there in round seven, but come to find that he is not.
Having an independent opinion and reaching for a player on that basis may not always work out, and it may not always maximize the return on your insight, but one thing that can be said for such a commitment is that it doesn’t leave you psychologically tortured with a candle burning from both ends.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 3:14am (10) Comments
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
First off, I hope everyone out there in reader-land had a safe and happy holiday season. Hopefully, you are using some of your rest and relaxation time to kick your 2012 fantasy preparation into high gear. I, for one, was very excited to find my 2012 Ron Shandler Forecaster under the Christmas tree.
I have written at length about different strategies and theories regarding draft, team construction and in-season management. All of these are incredibly useful tools and will help prepare you to dominate on draft day.
However, some of you may disagree with my methods. Maybe you don’t want to start your preparation in October or carefully construct your draft plan with contingencies for every possible scenario that could come up. And maybe you don’t want to dedicate long and arduous hours to construct your own personal projections for every MLB player, as well as an elaborate statistical value system for ranking said players. That’s fine, too.
But if you listen to one lesson, make it this one: Draft the players you love.
Forget about “value,” as the term is relative and will have different meanings to every drafter. Don’t think that you are the smartest man at the draft table and can game the system. You can’t. For example: I think I can pass on Elvis Andrus in the 4th round and take Dan Haren instead, because I know that my shortstop Andrus will be there for me in the 5th. Seems like a good plan, until Andrus is snaked out from under me before I have a chance. Now you’re stuck with Haren, who’s all well and good, but wasn’t a staple of your draft strategy, and you have to settle for Jimmy Rollins whose .250 average over 600+ at-bats makes you queasy.
Or maybe you think that because you have the latest and greatest Average Draft Position (ADP) data heading into your draft, that you can simply choose the guys you want a round before they are “supposed” to go off the board, and everything will work out beautifully. The problem with that scenario is that 14 other drafters are armed with the exact same data and are planning the same thing.
Having to go through the grind of the fantasy baseball season with a losing team can be a brutally painful experience. Having to do so with guys that you really didn’t want in the first place can be unbearable.
If you believe strongly in a player and want him on your team, do what it takes to get him. There is no worse feeling than being right about a player’s potential breakout but not getting to realize that breakthrough because you didn’t pull the trigger soon enough.
That said, here are a few of the players who I love and will make every effort to acquire this draft season. (Note: With draft rounds, I refer to 15 team NFBC style leagues.)
Adam Wainwright – Heading into 2011, Wainwright was the #3 overall pitcher on my board, behind only Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw. Unfortunately, he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire year. If completely healthy, he’d be a fine anchor for any fantasy rotation, but is being drafted in the 7th or 8th round as more of an SP2. I expect that as we get closer to March, and he looks healthy in Spring Training games, his value will increase. Still, I’ll pay whatever it takes to acquire him.
Michael Young – Maybe I just have a soft spot in my heart for him because he helped lead me to a league title last year. But coming off of a monster year where he hit .338 and drove home 106 runs, he’s still being drafted in the 6th round, still qualifying at the ever shallow third base position, and still hitting in that high-powered Texas offense. I see no reason Young should continue to be so undervalued. These are the type of underrated players who win you championships.
Lorenzo Cain – I was extremely high on him heading into last season, and a solid year at AAA helped sustain my love. He’s slated to be the everyday centerfielder for the Royals this year, and may even be given a chance to supplant Alex Gordon atop the lineup. He’ll be a solid source of steals and runs while not killing your average or power numbers.
Howie Kendrick – He’s a guy whose value is hard to gauge as he appears to be a sleeper on many player’s lists this early draft season. He’s always possessed the potential for a high average bat and complimented that nicely with a dose of power in 2011. Heading into his age-28 season, he’ll have the luxury of hitting in front of Albert Pujols in the Angel lineup. I expect a career year from Kendrick in 2011.
Rafael Betancourt – Someone who’s always had the talent to close, but was never given the opportunity. With Huston Street out of the picture, I think Betancourt could run away with the job in Colorado and be a cheap source of 30+ saves.
Salvador Perez – Last, but certainly not least, is Salvador Perez. He’s another guy who helped lead me to a title with a strong finish to 2011, and someone I will strive to own in multiple leagues in 2012. He’s perfect for two-catcher leagues, as he should hit for a high average while most catchers are a huge drain there. He also has the full confidence of his manager and should play nearly every day. Finally, he's still growing into his frame and the power should develop. He’s fun to watch and will hopefully be a staple of my teams this year.
I expect all of these players to help me win in 2012, but the important thing is it’s much more fun to go into battle with players you love.
As always, questions and comments are encouraged and appreciated!
Posted by Dave Shovein at 12:11am (16) Comments
Thursday, December 29, 2011
I sat down with Dan Okrent, a league mate of mine and the founding father of fantasy baseball, to reminisce about the original Rotisserie league, share stories and thoughts about baseball, and see if I could solicit some fantasy advice. Sadly, I failed on the last front, but my chat with Okrent reminded me of why I love this game so much.
Sometimes the real reasons we play get lost in the murkiness of big business bullying (see: “Worst Rotisserie memory” below) and often, money is intertwined with the game itself and the competition becomes based solely on a payday. It may not be innocent fun and games, but it is all fun and games, and sometimes, I feel as though money clouds the real meanings: the joy of owning a self-selected baseball team, the experience of connecting to the game on a deeper level, and the gratification of living out the childhood dream of running a front office.
Below, Okrent shares some stories about how it brings us together and allows us to make new friends, and how one man enjoys himself without ever having the glory of victory (which says a lot about fantasy baseball's lust in and of itself). Fantasy ball a tremendous creation, and we should all tip our cap to him for it. Here’s some of our conversation:
Photo used with permission from Dan Okrent.
What emotions does it stir up, seeing this huge business that you effectively invented and didn’t make more than a dollar on?
Well, for a while it bothered me, and for a while we tried to make money off of it and were never able to. We never made meaningful money, and in fact in the '90s, a professor at the Stanford Business School used it as a case study. He asked his students: “How would you have made money off of this if you had invented it before there was an Internet?” That’s the problem. If we’d have invented it 15 years later, you can see how using the Internet, you can very quickly establish your presence and set out your boundaries, but there was no way of doing it then. So I used to get pissed off at myself—“How could you be so stupid” and “there are those who exploited your idea”—but now... I have a nice house, I have two kids, I have two cars.
I was at spring training one year in the late '80s in Tampa, and we went to a game one day in St. Pete, and these two blond guys in their 40s came up to us—and they turned out to be identical twin dentists from Indianapolis—and one of ‘em recognized me from the Ken Burns documentary on baseball and said to me, “Thank you for this. It’s the most important thing in our lives besides our families and we just love it so much and it’s so great to meet you.” And the other one says, “And to think that you just gave it to the people!” F**k me. (laughs)
So it’s stirred up mixed emotions certainly but I’ve gotten over it.
And you really couldn’t have made that much money on the premise, since you tried to call it Rotisserie and people stole it and turned in into “fantasy.”
I think if we had invented it in 1995, we could have gone to ESPN saying “here’s this game, and we’re going to own it, and here’s how you begin to get attention for it,” we could have taken a position somewhere. Would we have been smart enough? Probably.
But the rules are so simple; see, it wasn’t just trademarking the name, because we tried that with Rotisserie, and thus came the generic name “fantasy,” but the rules are so obvious that there was nothing to protect. There was nothing to buy to be able to play this.
But I remember talking to John Walsh I would guess in '89 or '90, just pre-Internet, and they were trying to figure out things to add onto "SportsCenter" and I said, “do Rotisserie,” and he checked with his marketing guys and they did a survey of the people who watched ESPN, who watched "Baseball Tonight," who watched "SportsCenter," and they asked them how many of them played fantasy sports and they came back with 1.5 percent. Now, if he had asked that question seven years later, it would’ve been 30 percent or whatever.
We were too early. It was 1980, and I used to do the stats by hand. One interesting thing about the development of Rotisserie: people asked about the eight categories, and people would say, “Why’d you count batting average? Everyone knows on-base percentage is a much more important thing.” I knew that even then when I made the rules, but walks weren’t in the box score. That wasn’t until USA Today came out with the extended box score that now everybody uses. But if you couldn’t find out in the morning paper how your guys did, it was pointless.
What’s your proudest Rotisserie moment?
I never won! I once lost to Rob Fleder on the last day of the season. It was something as simple as if John Candelaria had gotten one more out, or something ridiculous. I know what my proudest moment was, though. We used to live in Western Massachusetts, and when we moved to New York City, my son, about 10 years old, started a new school, and the kids were mean to him and nobody wanted to talk to him and he was very, very unhappy in this new city. And one day, a kid who he did become friendly with took him home and introduced him to his parents, and his father said, “Are you related to Dan Okrent?” And John said, “Yeah, that’s my dad!” And the father of his friend said, “He invented Rotisserie baseball, he changed my life,” and the kid who was with him said, “Your dad...?!” The next day at school, he was the most popular kid.
What was your worst Rotisserie-related memory?
The worst moment in my career, as Mr. Rotisserie inventor, was when this guy came to us in the '80s, Bill Junkin, was a newspaper promotion-circulation guy, and he was interested in buying Rotisserie baseball, and was going to use it to build circulation games. But we were so naive, and our lawyer never composed a non-disclosure agreement, and he spent weeks interviewing us, and talking about us, and he disappeared. Suddenly, these circulation games are popping up all over newspapers that were connected to the chain he was working for. He just stole it. And there was nothing we could do about it.
Do you have a best deal you’ve ever pulled off?
I only pull off bad deals. (laughs) I’m a good drafter and a bad trader, and I’m not as good of a drafter as I used to be.
What are your main strategies?
Well, it changes every year because nothing I’ve tried works. One year I might forget about saves and save that money for stolen bases, or whatever. Someone makes the case, I read, that you should give up on both power categories, and if you do that, you’ll have enough money to get 60 points and win (note: this applies to a 4x4 league, where the eight categories means 80 points is the highest possible total). In that case, you have to get the pitching right, but my problem as a player is that I never do get the pitching right.
When do you typically start with your draft prep?
Really, it’s in the last few weeks before. When I was playing more seriously in the '80s and '90s, I used to follow it more seriously, but I don’t play in the same way anymore.
How much do you follow it today?
I play every day; I set my lineup daily, I like that. The most interesting thing to me—you started playing when you were 10, right? (Right.) Were you reading box scores every morning before you started playing? (I was, I think that’s why my dad brought [fantasy] to me.) What were you looking for? (I have no idea.) But you would spend hours on it, right? (Right.) That was from the time when you were probably six until you were 10. I spent from the time I was six to the time I was 31, every morning during the season, I could spend half an hour or 40 minutes reading box scores. So I founded the Rotisserie league in 1980 and the “last” season in the original league was 1995, and then the 1996 season comes, and I get the newspaper, and I turn to the box scores. What am I looking for? I’m not looking for how my players are doing, because I don’t have players anymore. I used to look at these and get something out of them. I don’t know why I looked at them, and I never figured it out!
How do you pick your minor league players?
I look at top-prospect lists and try to correlate them to teams that have weak people in the corresponding positions.
If you could fix three things in baseball as a sport, and one thing in fantasy baseball as an entity, what would those fixes look like?
In real baseball, the length of game would be the first thing I change. I would impose that by a pitch clock. That’s radical, and it might disrupt rhythms too much, but the other way would be to limit the number of pitching changes, which might even be more radical.
If you’re going to have divisions in baseball, and I can see a case for it, then the team with the best record in the league should get more than the home field advantage. So it would be like, in a seven-game series, the pennant-winning team would have to win three games before the other team wins four. You get these races that aren’t races, and I would change that tomorrow.
The All-Star game system is corrupt, and if you’re going to have home field advantage for the World Series on the line, let the nine best players play the whole game. It’s just dumb.
I’m playing fantasy the way I want to play fantasy, so I don’t feel like I need to change anything. I would like to find a way to win.